Four Issues with M-commerce & How to Beat Them

In a recent survey commissioned by the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG), 41% of UK retail brands either have, or are planning, a transactional mobile site or application within the next 12 months. This suggests that m-commerce has now become mainstream and is no longer the preserve of a few pace setters.

As consumers we are at a tipping point. Just looking at my circle of friends (and I appreciate they may not be typical), most of them expect to be able to use a mobile phone as a channel to both engage with, and purchase from retailers. However, with 59% of UK brands yet to do anything about m-commerce there is both room for disruption and innovation within the SME sector. In this article I look at the top four issues with m-commerce and ways to overcome them.

1. Too many devices, too much choice

Smartphone adoption has gone stratospheric; led by the innovative iPhone and now being spearheaded by Android devices, it seems almost everyone has one. However, mass adoption leads to confusion, and for retailers this introduces problems. The classic dilemma is the app versus mobile site issue.

Dave Smith, the managing director at IMRG argues strongly for mobile-ready sites over apps and I support that approach:

“It’s a question of whether to create a mobile web site or go down the app route. If you go down the app route, that restricts you to the use of certain mobile devices for that app.”

“I think the future for retail will be more in mobile-enabled websites rather than apps. As a retailer, you’ll get lost in the sheer amount of apps there are out there and as a consumer, you don’t want to spend your time trawling through those apps, it’s better to surf in the same way that you surf the web using a PC.”

2. Hostile conditions

If you are developing an m-commerce strategy there is one consideration that needs to be absolutely central to your thinking: the mobile users’ browsing conditions and connections will be against you.

I once compared m-commerce to my beloved Tottenham Hotspur football team; you have absolutely no idea which team is going to turn up. Spurs, on form, can and have, beaten any team put in front of them. This is normally followed by humiliation at the hands of a plucky club dragged up through the divisions. Being a Spurs fan is exciting, but you have to set your expectations accordingly. M-commerce is exactly the same, you might be lucky and find your end user is connected to a blisteringly fast Wifi connection, or it might be a worst case GPRS.

Then again, the connection may be down.

M-commerce apps and sites need to cater for these changeable conditions, this is especially important for areas such as the checkout or other sensitive areas of the site.

3. Payment pain

As anyone who has done this can confirm, typing your 16-character credit card number into a mobile phone is not a happy experience. Apart from the obvious room for error with a tiny keyboard there are security considerations as well. Mobile payments are a highly innovative area and payment providers are rolling out new solutions at an impressive rate.

For instance, Paypal has quite an arsenal of development tools that allow both app and mobile site payments. The problem is that no clear standards have yet emerged across these various initiatives. However PayPal’s www.x.com is by far the best I have seen to date so worth a visit.

4. Coping with a small screen

The biggest limitation, but one that can be partially addressed, is screen size. The antidote to the limited real estate is to use a much smaller image, sharper messaging requiring less text, and more pages so that more information can be gleaned if the customer requires.

Here are two examples of sites that use screen size differently, but effectively:

Amazon has clearly done a lot of research with their mobile site. The core approach to its offering is centred around the core belief that browsers generally don’t know what they want when landing on the site. This deep understanding of its customer base has driven its design. If you are a regular customer it’s easy to log in, you are then presented with your own specific recommendations and categories. This is smart thinking as it’s reducing the number of steps required to browse and buy.

eBay is a little different. People visit the eBay store either to search for goods or check the progress of something they are selling – two very diverse sets of users. For the majority of cases, eBay shoppers lands on the site already knowing what they want. eBay has responded to this by making Search a prominent feature on the mobile store. For merchants it’s account management, and again this is easy to find and navigate, even with the most inaccurate of input device – the finger!

Onward and upward

Mobile commerce is clearly on the rise. However, despite the activity, actual sales outside music, apps and ring tones remain subdued. But, it’s clear that this is changing and it’s important for retailers to be completely on top of the changing landscape.


SellerDeckBenjamin Dyer is CEO of ecommerce specialist, SellerDeck and heads the development of Actinic’s portfolio of ecommerce and retail applications. He is an enthusiastic blogger and Tweeter, and has written many advisory articles for the small business media.

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